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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA


Technical Issues Continue and “My name is Madam President. You WILL address me as such…”


Councilors and staff, with the exception of council member Richard Nassaney, conducted the July 20 Town Council meeting in person in the council chambers, however issues with poor quality and frequently unintelligible audio that had plagued the June 1 and June 15 meetings persisted.

The chamber is without connected microphones as the town awaits the installation of new audio visual equipment, making it difficult for those watching the proceedings online to understand what is being said.


Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth said council President Nell Carpenter had been adamant that the meeting take place in council chambers.

“Nell Carpenter insisted upon conducting an in-person meeting despite the fact that the audio visual equipment to enable a hybrid meeting had not yet been installed in the Town Council chambers, and despite the fact that the governor’s last executive order allowing hybrid meetings was still in effect,” she said.

Nassaney, who participated in the July 20 meeting via Zoom, has been protesting the poor audio quality at meetings since early June. In a June 9 complaint to the state filed after the June 1 council meeting, he contended that the proceedings were difficult or impossible to understand and therefore constituted a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act because they hindered public participation.

“During the meeting, there were multiple complaints being texted to the administrator, to myself, and to [Town Clerk] Erin Liese while she was trying to run the meeting and people were saying that they can’t hear what’s being said, so that was told to the Chair [Council President Carpenter] and Erin tried make adjustments accordingly,” he said. “The chief of police made a comment that it was really hard to hear and Erin again tried to make some adjustments…People couldn’t hear. Multiple people emailed me later on and the solicitor was going to offer some legal advice but hesitated, because she knew the audio was not of good quality. So she did not offer that, and basically just kind of silenced herself, and at that point, I made up my mind that I was filing an Open Meetings violation, because people could not hear what the council was saying or what was happening within the chambers and I thought that that was just wrong.”


Several matters were voted on at the July 20 meeting, including an amendment to the town’s zoning map. In addition, the council approved an amendment to the Code of Ordinances pertaining to the advertising of vacant town staff positions.

Nassaney complained that the continuing poor audio quality had made it difficult to understand the presentation on the new proposed zones by Town Planner Shaun Lacey.


“It was a very elaborate presentation and I was trying to follow along and it was difficult,” he said. “Every time somebody moved something, or bumped or coughed, the audio skipped and garbled for a moment and then you couldn’t hear what was being said.”

As of July 23, all public bodies in Rhode Island are required to return to in-person meetings in accordance with the Open Meetings Act, but live-streaming of meetings in addition to in-person meetings is still permitted.  Town Administrator Karen Pinch said Signet Electronics, the company installing the equipment in the council chambers, was expected to complete the work in time for the next council meeting, on Aug. 17.

“The vendor for our new AV [audio visual] system has advised us that a few of the necessary parts are backordered due to supply chain issues,” she said. “They estimate that the parts should be in by the end of July, which should make it possible for us to be up and running for the August Town Council meeting.”


With Nassaney casting the single dissenting vote, the council approved amendments to the zoning map creating two new zones: “Conservation and Open Space” and “Public and Governmental.”


The council also unanimously approved an amendment to the Code of Ordinances that will require the public advertising of all open town positions, both paid and unpaid.

In other business, a date was set for a public hearing on a reorganization of the Department of Public Works, proposed by department Director Scott Barber, and the council heard a request by Karl Wadensten, owner of VIBCO, and several other Stilson Road business owners, to keep a proposed medical marijuana - growing operation out of the district because of the odor it would generate.


Food truck dust-up


The issue of food trucks in the town was also raised as councilors considered setting a date for a public hearing to discuss possible amendments to the Code of Ordinances pertaining to “mobile food establishments.”

Carpenter said she had consulted the state’s Department of Business Regulation regarding food truck regulations, and objected to Ellsworth’s drafting of a food truck ordinance for consideration by the council.

“This is a 24-page memo that has already been drafted,” she said. “In my opinion, a step has been missed. It should have been for discussion with the direction of council if we support it,” she said.

Ellsworth replied that the draft of the ordinance had been accompanied by  a copy of the state regulations as well as the state law regarding food trucks.

“All of which, the taxpayers have paid for, without the council’s direction,” Carpenter said. “That’s where my concern is, that this was complaint-driven from a neighbor and we have no idea what the backstory is there, and when we start humoring complaints from neighbors to other neighbors in forms of potential zoning amendment, I believe it’s a very slippery slope.”

Ellsworth responded,

“This is not a zoning amendment, first of all,” before Carpenter interrupted, saying that she did not believe it was appropriate to require some businesses to obtain outdoor entertainment permits while others were exempt from doing so.

“The optics of this are, we are picking winners and losers, we are choosing who we’re going to require a permit for, while simultaneously allowing other entities to operate without and it’s concerning. It’s incredibly concerning to me. The optics are pretty bad.”

Contacted after the meeting, Ellsworth said she had drafted many ordinances which were then presented to the council for consideration.

“It’s not unusual for staff to generate an ordinance for the consideration of the Town Council,” she said. “Usually, it’s discussed by the Town Council first and they request a draft, but that’s not always what happens.  Sometimes, an ordinance is drafted first and presented to them for discussion, and that’s what happened Tuesday.”

Ellsworth pointed out that minutes earlier, the council had approved the drafting of a zoning ordinance amendment after receiving a complaint from a business owner.

“This is, of course, 20 minutes after the council itself did exactly the same thing when they asked me to draft an ordinance amendment prohibiting cultivation of medical marijuana as a result of a complaint from Wadensten, the owner of VIBCO,” she said. “It apparently did not occur to her that she was accusing me of doing something wrong when the council had done exactly the same thing, not 20 minutes earlier.


Issues at the June 15 meeting


In addition to audio problems, a motion made at the June 15 council meeting had the potential to derail the Washington County fair, which will take place from Aug. 11 to Aug. 15.

Proposed by Lauren Cacciola, the motion to continue the license hearing would have delayed council approval of an outdoor entertainment license for the Washington County Fair until July 20.

After Fair Committee Vice Chair Clyde S. Fish informed the council that a July 20 license hearing would be too close to the fair’s opening and might result in the outright cancellation of the iconic Rhode Island event, at the suggestion of councilor Ronald Newman, council members agreed to grant the license.

The June 15 meeting also exposed ongoing tensions between council members, in particular, Carpenter and Nassaney.

Before that meeting adjourned, Nassaney addressed Carpenter as “Miss Carpenter,” eliciting a heated response.

“Point of order. Absolute point of order,” Carpenter said. “My name is not Miss Carpenter. My name is Madam President. You will address me as such, okay?”

Cynthia Drummond


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